VIENTIANE (6 June 2012) – It was a game of two halves as Japan turned on the power in the last ten minutes of the game to demolish hosts Laos 3-0 in the final round robin match of the AFF Under-16 Preparatory Tournament this evening at the Laos National Stadium.
With Australia already confirming their place in the final following their exhilarating 4-2 win over Thailand earlier, the onus was on Laos to deny Japan the chance to play Australia.
But it was not to be.
“The Laos team is strong and quick but the game plan was to keep possession on go on the quick counter-attacks,” said Ejiri Atsuhiko, the chief coach of Japan. “We are improving from game to game and we look forward to playing against Australia in the final.”
By contrast, Japan were very different from the side that played against Thailand the previous day. While before they were full of vigour and always looking for the attacking options, this time round, they were more calculated.
They held possessions for long periods and rarely gave Laos the chance to move forward. If it was not for the good work of both captain Sonevilay Sihavong and custodian Vathana Keodouandeth, the hosts could have fallen behind much sooner.
The score at the end of the first half was 0-0.
It was a different Japan that took to the field after the break and they came close twice through Tsukawaki Masanobu and striker Tsubakimoto Keisuke but both narrowly missed the intended target.
With Laos missing the speed and the ingenuity of striker Armysay Kettavong, they were always struggling going forward and rarely troubled the Japanese backline.
In the 80th minute, the game finally went up a beat when Japan finally prised open the Laos defence through an exhibition of individual flair through Sugimori Koki, who drove into the box before beating two defenders and then stabbing the ball home past Vathana.
And four minutes later, Laos fell further behind when Watanabe Ryoma made up for his earlier miss to slam in the second goal for Japan following a cross from Nakajo Masayoshi. With just seconds left in the game, Kawata Kento wrapped up things up with the third goal to give Japan a place in the final and a second game against Australia in two days.
The two sides had battled to a 1-1 draw on the first match day of the competition.
“We still need more experience,” added Han Hyong Il, the chief coach of Laos. “While we are generally happy with the performance of the players, they need to be stronger. The absence of Armysay really affected the team.”
AFF UNDER-16 PREPARATORY TOURNAMENT 2012
(All matches at the Lao National Stadium, KM16)
2 June 2012: AUSTRALIA 1 JAPAN 1 / THAILAND 0 LAOS 1
4 June 2012: JAPAN 3 THAILAND 0 / LAOS 2 AUSTRALIA 3
6 June 2012: AUSTRALIA 4 THAILAND 2 / JAPAN 3 LAOS 0
8 June 2012: Laos vs Thailand (1600) / Japan vs Australia (1900)